Saturday, April 14, 2007

Mutual Intimacy and Covenanted Communities

I am the great blog neglector. There, I admitted it. Nonetheless, I have continued to have very fruitful discussions concerning the interrelational church philosophy with many people over the past six months that I have been absent from the blogoshere. One of the main issues that continued to come to the forefront in these discussions concerned whether it was necessary for there to be a “local” group of covenanted individuals to meet the requirement of a functional body of believers. In some ways this question is related to whether one should be focused on seeing church through the lens of the universal church or through the local church. While I am sympathetic toward those who desire to broaden their relationships with believers outside of their geographical or traditional spheres, I still find myself arguing for what I term “mutual intimacy.” The ideal implementation of mutual intimacy is unrealistic, but when used as a driving philosophical tenet, it can help bring about a practical movement toward true interrelational community.
When I first propose the necessity for a covenanted (an agreement among believers of belief and conduct based on a common foundation) group of believers in my definition of how Christians should image Christ, one of the main objections normally goes like this: “But doesn’t my intimate interaction with various believers in different realms of my life qualify as my involvement with the church?” This is a good point and I have some agreement with it. Ultimately though, I am brought back to asking them the question, “Do all those Christians you have a relationship with have a desire or ability to have mutual intimacy with one another as well?” Most of the time the individual I have talked to does not see the necessity of such a quality and I have to explain further. “If you fall into a sinful habit, and one of your friends finds out, will that individual have a realistic and effective way of encouraging all of your scattered Christian friends to discipline you in a like manner?”
Since there is such an epidemic in the actualization of church discipline in the Christianity of our day, it is extremely important that we, the body of Christ, consider how we might again foster the proper institution of the biblical discipline of believers. Without writing a Baxterian theses on church discipline, I think we can all see how the philosophy of mutual intimacy can promote the proper discipline of those in a covenanted community of believers. If we all know each other as well as time and living circumstances permit, then we can all, theoretically, come to a better agreement as to when discipline is needed, why it is needed, how it is to be applied, and the terms for reconciliation once it is applied. Without such a covenanted community it would be easier for the wounded member to avoid healing by deceiving, and relying on the acceptance of, other friends who are not in the know. Thus is the tragic circumstances of most “covenanted” gatherings anyway, mostly due to their inadequate ecclesiology. Mutual intimacy is a rare bird in the jungle of Christian gatherings. Unfortunately, those gatherings that most exemplify this quality are those that are the least functional in interaction with the world, i.e. the Amish and Mennonites. There are certainly other churches that are better at implementing this quality but they are few and lack popular exposure.
There is enough meat here to start our discussion concerning a universal vs. a local understanding of personal church involvement, so let the discussion begin. I look forward to hearing from those who have contributed before and to any new comers that enjoy interacting with our topics of discussion.

I have also included some pics of my life from the past several months.
The kids and I during our Christmas Eve celebration
My 80's themed 31st Birthday
An Easter pic with my three little girls
St. Patty's Day in Raleigh with Gareth and friend Jon

One of those ecclesiological conversations with friend Stan
My wife Ashlee and fellow congregants at a church gathering
Our community of believers gathering for the Lord's Supper